We try to eat dinner as a family every night. Some nights that means a rather late meal because the Handy Man and the girls have archery from 4-7PM twice a week. Other nights it means fairly early meals because of music lesson and church (Wednesdays) or choir (Tuesdays.) Honestly, there are times when it would simply be easier for me to just make a meal and let everyone eat it when they are able, but even though our schedule probably wouldn’t work for many families out there, it works for us. One of the reasons I so love our family meal times is because it gives us a time to reconnect after a busy day. Many meals end with references to “do you remember…?”
Last night was no exception. For some reason the girls began to reminisce about recipes that have gone awry. I have had a few of those myself…just ask the Handy Man some day about my Corn Bread Carrot Cake, or ask the kids about tofu lasagna. (Yeah, it was as gross as it sounds.) It was inevitable that the subject of Dee’s cheese grits casserole would come up.
As a word of explanation, I have always aimed to teach my children how to be somewhat self-sufficient in the kitchen, as evidenced here. We have gone through different cycles and methods of teaching kitchen skills. Currently we have a “dinner helper” position that is part of the chore schedule, so each of the three older girls have a week of dinner prep built into the laundry and floor rotation. Mostly this person helps me with salad preparation, peeling vegetables, dicing, pasta prep, etc. This is especially helpful on the afternoons when I am trying to finish school with another child, or if I am running afternoon errands. Several years ago I had the girls on breakfast rotation and they took turns making breakfast for the whole family. Back then the two oldest children were still at home, and they, too were in the rotation, so that meant that I only had to do breakfast two mornings a week. Each child was responsible for making their menu and ensuring that they had the correct materials available to do make their recipe. (In the interest of full disclosure, now the girls pretty much fend for themselves and whoever is my baby helper makes the boys breakfast while I shower or exercise.)
So on the fateful morning of Dee’s cheese grits casserole disaster, Dee was eager to make her breakfast for the family. The night before we had gotten the cookbook down and I had verified that she knew where all the ingredients were. She was about ten years old. We had discussed the ingredients, and she had been learning fractions, and we both felt confident that she would be able to follow the recipe. And she did–almost to a tee. What we didn’t count on was the fact that the cookbook printing was a little cramped, so the 1 1/2 cups of cheese looked to Dee like 11 1/2 cups of cheese. She had used five bags of shredded cheddar cheese (because I am
a freak budget conscious and buy it in bulk when it is on sale) and was just unsure if she really needed to add the other 1 1/2 cups. So she came to ask me about it. I was horrified that she had used 10 cups of cheese in the casserole, but being one who hates to waste food, I made the kids eat it all. Somehow the casserole became known as “constipation casserole”….and to this day, on the rare occasion that we actually make it, that is what the children call it.
Other fun things we do at our family dinners include staring contests; sometimes we do the whoever-laughs-first-loses contest, and sometimes we simply wait for someone to look away first in order to determine the winner…and of course there are always many distractions happening by the non-participants in the staring contest to influence the win one way or the other. The girls love to tell jokes and the funny happenings of their day during dinner, too.
Another benefit of having a family dinner together is that we can teach proper table manners, such as teaching the little ones how to use forks and spoons correctly. We like to be able to take our children into public places for meals; sadly, we know families who do not feel they can take their little ones even to a church supper. Family suppers are a good time to remind older children (and girls especially) that we do not burp at the table, and if we do, we should NOT be proud of the volume of it. (And, yes, there have been the occasional burping contests much to my disgust and their hilarious laughter. Sadly, those are not the only gaseous emissions about which we must worry…and I will leave it to you to figure out what exactly I mean.) My children are far from perfect, and I am glad I get to see the imperfections on a daily basis. Their good qualities far outnumber the imperfections, like when Star Child pulls Curious George onto her lap and coos to him, “I love you Boo-Boo.” Or when Lil’ Adventurer looks at Dee and declares that he loves her more than he loves Lindy (our eldest daughter and the one who spoils the boys and Little Princess terribly.) That is indeed high praise! Or when the girls begin to sing as the meal winds down…those are sweet, precious times–times we would miss if we hadn’t cultivated the habit of eating together every night. Lil’ Adventurer often breaks into a narration of some dream or imagining, and Gladys Mae will often tell us funny tidbits about the people at archery or music lesson or where-ever she happened to be that day.
Dinner is also a good time for us to pray, and for the little ones to learn how to pray out loud. We open each day with worship and prayer time, and dinner time is like the close of the day for us as a family. Children need practice in praying aloud–most people are not comfortable doing that, and we want our children to be able to minister to others with prayer. Dinner is a great time for them to learn how to pray without pressure. Often we start with a listen and repeat method, where Daddy says a prayer one line at a time and the little one repeats it after him. Eventually, they get the hang of it and are comfortable praying on their own. Some of our children prefer to say a memorized prayer, but most prefer to pray from their hearts. This can lead to some interesting dinner time prayers, but that is okay. There is grace for imperfection!
Dinner is a special time in our family life. I am so thankful that the Handy Man and I made it a habit when we got married almost 18 years ago.